Wednesday, Jul 06

Denny Hamlin Press Conference Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway

THE MODERATOR: We are joined by our race winner tonight, Denny Hamlin, driver of the No. 11 FedEx Toyota for Joe Gibbs Racing.

We had a conversation the other evening about winning the pole, how much you wanted to win this race. Tell us what it feels like to be able to bring home the trophy tonight.

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it feels great. Obviously it wasn't looking good for about 398 laps. Considering our day, I was going to be pretty content with a fourth-place finish.

I just knew with that number one pit stall we had an opportunity, if everyone pitted, that we could come out first. We didn't. But we were the first car on four tires.

Yeah, it just worked out. Things worked out for us. They haven't worked out very well for the first 12 races in a lot of different ways. Certainly this one was one that we capitalized on the opportunity.

We managed the race. We knew we didn't have the fastest car, the best car by any means, but we just stayed in the race. We didn't make any mistakes, gave ourselves an opportunity when the opportunity arose for us.

THE MODERATOR: Questions, please.

Q. Take us through your night starting from the pole. You said on a podcast you would like to walk away from the sport as a winner. Is this the type of race you would want to walk away from as a winner?

DENNY HAMLIN: I'm not near the end of my career by any means, but this is certainly one that will be on the résumé when you're done. You're looking at all your accolades, the Coke 600 is way up there. I've had 17 tries at it and hadn't won it until today.

It means a lot. We started on the pole. I thought we were just going to stay up front most of the day. We just weren't very good, to be honest. We battled with the car. We were tight, loose. Overall we didn't have the grip we needed.

Yeah, it was a struggle most of the day. But we just stayed in it and never really got ourselves outside of the top 10, really outside of the top eight. We kind of stayed in that spot.

We capitalized, made our car better in the final stage. I was able to charge up to fourth. I thought that was about all the potential we had in the car. When the caution came out, Here we go, we got an opportunity to win. Finally something kind of went our way.

Q. Is this the rebound the sport needed after last weekend, all the controversy, people disappointed in the racing product that the All-Star Race delivered? Talk about the sport as a whole, was this a shot in the arm after last week?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, certainly had some good moments today. In the end, as well. Anytime you have a green-white-checkered, you're going to have some pretty exciting moments. Everyone is going to drive really hard because this is a marquee event.

I knew that sparks were probably going to fly on the first green-white-checkered, especially with guys with a little bit older tires, then you had guys with four tires like myself.

Yeah, it's good to have a race that was competitive. I don't know how many lead changes, guys led laps, but it seemed like a pretty competitive race for the most part.

The groove kind of moved around a little bit. At the end it kind of got a little bit top-lane dominant. It's just part of it. We haven't been able to run the wall at this track for many, many years. I think a lot of that had to do with them not spraying more than one coat of resin on the track. That was a big factor.

Yeah, it was a good day. I got to go back and watch the race to see what kind of racing. But I'm sure we're going to dissect it and always continue to improve.

Q. Tires blowing, guys spinning out, a car flipped. Was this a good day for the Next Gen car?

DENNY HAMLIN: I need to go back and watch it honestly to give a proper assessment for it.

Listen, there's some work, and it's going to evolve. Every time we change cars, we have a new generation, it takes like a significant amount of time to get it right. This was a major overhaul of a car. Other than it had a steering wheel and four tires, there wasn't much that was similar to the previous generation car. That car had been honed in for a long time. This one still has some work to do. We got to do some testing to try to fix it in some areas.

But in the meantime we're still having some pretty good racing on nights like tonight I think. From where I was at, if you were good, you could make up positions. If you weren't, you lost some. When I was bad, I fell back. When I was good, I was able to charge forward. That was encouraging.

Kind of jury is still out on trying to figure out exactly how we can make this good at every track we go to.

Q. Not considering this is a crown jewel, one that you haven't won, you won the longest race in NASCAR history when it comes to miles.

DENNY HAMLIN: I believe that.

Q. The ETA was a little over fire hours.

DENNY HAMLIN: And y'all watched every lap intently, didn't you (smiling)? No breaks.

Q. After a slow start to the season, do you feel a sense of relief that results are starting to match your pace?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yes, yes, for sure. At the beginning of the year we were kind of slow. I challenged Joe Gibbs Racing to keep a win/loss record. They do in every other sport. As a team you know what your record is because you have a win/loss.

What I've kind of said is if we've got more than one car that is capable of winning in our organization, we'll count it as a win. If we don't, then it's a loss. You can't just count on one guy to win.

We started the season 1-4. That was not good. We don't count superspeedways. The only win was Las Vegas. I don't know whether we'll count today as a win or loss. I'm not sure any of us were the top two cars. Again, I got to rewatch and dissect it.

I know last week our record was 8-5 at that point. We had gone on a really good run of 7-1 over the last eight races. We've been trending in the right direction.

So, yes, it's longwinded but it's certainly encouraging that even when you don't have the fastest car you can go out there and find a way to win.

Q. The overtime restart where you took the lead, you were three-wide off of four. At what point did you realize you had a run there and had a shot at it?

DENNY HAMLIN: Well, I knew there was going to be a lot of guys that were going to miss the corner, drive in way too deep. I actually backed up my corner to make sure I got off the corner extremely low.

Typically when guys drive in too deep they're going to wash up the track. I needed to make sure I got off the corner really low and with a good run.

What your instincts say as a driver when you're trying to go for the lead is drive it in as deep as can you on corner entry. You usually get bobbled, then you have a terrible run on corner exit. The only way I thought I could win was to get a good exit and hope they washed up the track. It happened exactly that way.

I still thought we were in a really good spot until the last green-white-checkered and Kyle was able to lay back, get a run to our outside. I did not like our chances, to be honest with you. I'd run the bottom so much, I did in qualifying, in three and four I was able to stay beside him, then just drove in really deep into one and cleared him.

Q. There was a miscommunication deal with the 23 car. They failed the DVP and fell out. What as a team do you guys do to make sense and understand that? What is the debrief process for something like that?

DENNY HAMLIN: Hmm, yeah, that's news to me. We were in the same wreck, and they told us to -- I thought you had a certain amount of laps to do that. Three? And it was three laps? Wow. Technicalities, man.

Q. (No microphone.)

DENNY HAMLIN: Played by the rules this week, huh? I mean, my team told me we needed to run a lap to clear DVP. If they didn't, then it's on them.

Q. About 10 or 12 to go, Chastain and Larson are gone, are you just hoping to salvage a top five or top four?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I was ready to get out of here. Fourth place is about the highest that I was most of the day. I was hanging on at that point. Somebody was running me down for fourth. I mean, I was white knuckling it. My car was not very good.

I didn't realize I had as much damage to the front end as I had. I don't know how much that really affected our car. Yeah, I was ready to get out of here.

Certainly when the caution came out, I was like, Okay, for sure we're all going to pit, no one is going to stay out too many laps on tires. I knew we had the number one pit stall. There's an opportunity for us to come out first here and steal a win. But we stole it a different way.

Q. In layman's terms, why are there so many spins and crashes, 17 cautions? What is happening?

DENNY HAMLIN: The car has less side force and less general downforce. In our old car you could kind of hang out. The right side was a billboard, it was flat, so it caught air. Anytime you stick your hand out of the window, you could feel it.

This one is all rounded. The moment it gets sideways, it just spins out. You don't have as much aerodynamics that keeps the car planted to the track.

Q. I believe you're one win behind Tony Stewart's win total. What does that mean to you given you were pretty involved in Tony's last win?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yes, I was. It's humbling, for sure. Starting to pass guys on the win list, I don't know, I can't carry their helmets. They're a lot better, a lot more talented.

I've just been really fortunate to be with a really good team my whole career. I've been very lucky, for sure. It's pretty humbling to kind of get there. Hopefully I can pass him. That's pretty close.

Q. The Indianapolis 500 and this race were both sold out. How important was that for motorsports to have such a banner day?

DENNY HAMLIN: It's really good. It's good to see the Indy 500 with 300,000 people or whatever it is. Here, the biggest crowd we've had in probably seven, eight years for sure.

It really reminds you of how big the event is. It appears that the younger generation is starting to fall in love with motorsports again, which is really good and encouraging. Once we get 'em here, we got to get 'em back, go to next week. That's the momentum we hope to keep.

The fact they are willing to come for a five-hour and 18-minute race, it means a lot. They're doing a lot of good things.

Q. You learned a few things about the team cars. You want to celebrate the Coke 600, but also you have to put your owner hat on, another rough night for the team.

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, it's a rough night but also a really good night. Bubba was really fast and Kurt was fast. Just didn't work out for 'em.

I'm more happy about where that team's speed is showing right now. They've been some of the best Toyotas week in, week out, which is really encouraging. They're taking what we have at JGR and they're making it better, which is what we're trying to do in the first place.

It's really going well. But this win's too big for me to kind of worry about that right now simply because of the significance of it to me, so... Tomorrow we'll dissect -- Tuesday we'll look after it.

Q. What was your view of the 17 when it was flipping, if anything? How dangerous or scary is that to a race car driver as opposed to a layman?

DENNY HAMLIN: Those type of wrecks look scarier than they really are. Anytime there's energy -- when it's rolling, it's getting rid of energy. You would much rather roll a car like that than blow a right front and dead one right to the fence. I'm sure other guys said that they hit harder than what probably Chris said.

I watched it, the replay, when we were parked there for the red flag. Looked like his right front got caught on the edge of the turf. That's what did it. It's amazing that could get a car flipped over.

Yeah, I mean, we can't say much bad about turf because we hate grass. There's no place in our sport for grass. I think it looked like it's just a weird deal that happened that you don't see every day.

Q. We heard during the testing for the new car about the heat. It was a hot day. How did you feel as far as comfortability with the heat?

DENNY HAMLIN: I generally don't get bothered with heat as much as some other drivers do. I don't run a cool suit unless it's burning up outside.

I don't know what it is. I've been doing it for forever. I don't know if my body's just kind of used to it. It could be the way that I hydrate that changes that. Just in general I usually just don't sweat that much.

I didn't really get bothered by the heat at all. I'm just starving. That's about it.

Q. We've talked about the championship pursuit ad nauseam. Adding another crown jewel to your personal résumé, you talked about the significance of this win. What is the immediate reflection on what that means? When does it dawn on you later you get a chance to check another one off the box?

DENNY HAMLIN: Every year it's like a new opportunity, right? We've gone into the Playoffs so many times as the best car, running well. This year has just gone so awful for the first third that you never know. This could be the year that we sleep our way there. I don't know.

Yeah, I already got a couple wins in the first third of the season. Especially with us still working to try to get good at all racetracks, I really think I'm pretty encouraged about where we're at.

I didn't really like my Playoff spot simply because we didn't have very many Playoff points, but no one does. There's been no domination in our sport right now from anyone. It's hard to find any consistency from anyone. It's allowed the Playoff points to get spread out all over the place.

There's not two to three guys, like in the past, that's got 40 entering the Playoffs. Probably won't have that this year. I think it's going to be more wide open. It's going to force the guys who have been up front all year to have to run every round. You're not going to be able to just walk your way to the next round like some of the guys have in the past, like we have in the past.

Q. Sam on top of the pit box, you guys have so much data to make decisions. What was it like working with him?

DENNY HAMLIN: Yeah, I mean, the most interesting thing I noticed is that he was really trying his best to motivate me throughout the day. It was good because, listen, he'll be a crew chief full-time one day. It's a big difference from when he stepped in to crew chief other times. Actually I thought he was one for one. He's actually done this before, he filled in.

He's getting better. He's growing up. Obviously he's got a great mentor in Chris Gabehart who he's worked under now for the last three years. It was good. It really was good. We've got three more weeks of it. We're going to continue to work on it.

But I was very happy with his confidence in the calls he was making tonight.

THE MODERATOR: Denny, thank you for your time. Congratulations again on the win.

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